A heart failure nurse spends the vast majority of his or her time caring for, attending to, and devising treatment regimens for patients with chronic heart conditions. Many different nurses perform occasional heart failure care, particularly if they are in general practice or work in hospital intake wards. What sets specific heart failure nurses apart is that this is all that they do. Most work in hospices or in specialized cardiac care wards of hospitals. In many cases, they have more interactions and relationships with patients than doctors do, if only because of their enduring presence.
The primary job of a heart failure nurse is to act as a liaison between a doctor and a patient. This often involves carrying out medication and treatment orders, as well as prepping patients for exams and procedures. Most of a patient’s routine care falls to the nurse, with doctors being called in only when decisions need to be made or more specialized evaluations need to be undertaken.
In private practice, a heart failure nurse is usually responsible for monitoring the progress and extensiveness of heart failure among a portfolio of patients. For patients of early stages of failure, this may require a lot of counseling. Nurses are often called upon to answer basic questions about care options, as well as to make specific recommendations related to diet, appropriate exercise, and prognoses. A heart failure nurse must accordingly be able to describe and explain heart failure as well as treat it.
When heart failure is caught early enough, patients are often eligible for transplants or restorative surgery. Although cardiac surgeons actually perform these procedures, it is usually the nurses who must prepare the patients, both physically and emotionally. This aspect of the heart failure nurse job often includes family consultations and frank conversations with a patient's family members and close friends.
Not all patients have a good prognosis with heart failure, which adds a different dimension to heart failure nurse duties. A great many heart failure patients are convalescents, which makes round-the-clock care important. Patients who have been moved to hospice settings often have no further use of a doctor’s services but generally still require the basic care provided by a nurse. Nurses in these types of settings must have a comprehensive understanding of advanced heart failure as well as training in patient comfort and end-of-life care.
In most cases, there are no special heart failure nurse requirements above and beyond ordinary nursing requirements. Some jurisdictions will offer optional heart failure nurse certification, but it is usually possible to enter the specialty without any particular expertise. Nurses typically choose heart failure based on personal interest, developed field expertise, or hospital needs.